Sun | Aug 1, 2021

Access Financial restructures top-level management

Published:Wednesday | June 9, 2021 | 12:06 AMKarena Bennett/Business Reporter
Marcus James, newly appointed executive chairman of Access Financial Services Limited.
Marcus James, newly appointed executive chairman of Access Financial Services Limited.

Marcus James, founder of microfinancing company Access Financial Services Limited, AFS, has assumed the role of executive chairman, while his prior job as CEO goes to Frederick Williams.

The changes, which took effect on June 3, sees James replacing former non-executive chairman Christopher Williams, who retains his board seat, and the mothballing of the general manager position held by Frederick Williams since June 2020.

Frederick was promoted to the position shortly after joining the firm as chief operating officer in October 2019 and put in charge of the day-to-day leadership and management of AFS, with a focus on digital transformation and operational efficiencies.

AFS’s senior management and board-level changes, which also sees non-executive director James Morrison being named lead independent director, come amid the transitioning of the microlending sector to central bank oversight by the middle of next year. The previously unregulated microfinancing firms will now require permits from the Bank of Jamaica to do business, under the new Microlending Act passed in January.

Already, the groups that speak for microfins, or payday lenders, Jamaica Micro Financing Association and the Jamaica Association for Micro Financing, have been saying the smaller players will find it onerous to satisfy the conditions for licensing and may end up being snapped up by larger operators.

Access Financial was already one of those companies growing through acquisition even before the new law, and James acknowledges that there are opportunities in the market, but hasn’t been clear on whether those include merger-and-acquisition deals.

“I wanted to transition to chairman of the company to bring opportunities to the table for management to execute on,” he told the Financial Gleaner. “We do see opportunities which we hope to execute on before the year ends, but I can’t speak on the plans at this time,” he said.

The opportunities extend beyond Access’ Jamaican operation to include subsidiary Embassy Loans Inc, a microlender that the company previously acquired in Florida, he added.

With James’ appointment, CEO Williams now has direct responsibility for the execution of expansion and acquisition strategies and generating synergies across the group.

“Fredrick Williams has proven himself. We were very pleased with his performance as general manager, and we thought it was a good time to move him to the CEO position. The post of general manager is not necessary at this point because Fredrick will run the company,” James said.

He added that the company should see some savings from the redundant post, but added that it will not be significant.

Access Financial’s March 2021 year-end results are still pending, but its nine-month results show the company has been pressured by the pandemic. Nine-month profit at December 2020 was down by nearly two-thirds, from $369 million to $128 million, while core revenue was down 20 per cent at $1.4 billion. The company said its earnings were lower due to a reduction in disbursements during the pandemic.

The group’s asset base was fairly sturdy, falling by just one per cent to $5.49 billion, while on the upside, the company’s cash holdings shot up 184 per cent to $555 million, based on deliberate steps taken by Access to ensure it had sufficient liquidity to weather the crisis.

The AFS stock is down by more than six per cent year to date, closing at $22 on Tuesday.